China is nearly ready to launch the third and final piece of its modular crewed space station.
A Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket rolled out to the pad at Wenchang spaceport on Hainan island early Tuesday (Oct. 25), China’s human spaceflight agency (CMSA) announced.
The Mengtian space station module is encapsulated in a 67-foot-long (20.5 meters) payload fairing on top of the 187-million-pound (849,000 kilograms) Long March 5B. The rocket and module were transported to the pad in a vertical position, covering roughly 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) in under three hours.
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CMSA did not reveal a launch date for Mengtian, but previous launches and earlier statements by Chinese space officials point to a liftoff around Oct. 31 Beijing time.
Mengtian ("Dreaming of the Heavens") is a 58.7-foot-long (17.9 m) and roughly 48,500-pound (22 metric tons) spacecraft designed mainly to host an array of science racks and experiments.
The new module will join the already orbiting Tianhe core module, launched in April 2021, and Wentian, which launched in July. Together the three modules will complete China’s Tiangong space station.
Three Shenzhou 14 mission astronauts are currently aboard Tiangong awaiting the arrival of the new module.
China plans to operate Tiangong for at least a decade and will conduct its first crew handover as soon as next month, when the Shenzhou 14 astronauts welcome aboard the crew of Shenzhou 15, who will launch from Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert.
Notably, the huge first stages of the three previously launched Long March 5B rockets have entered orbit and made high-profile uncontrolled reentries around a week after launch. The fiery first stage reentry from the Wentian module launch in July was spotted by onlookers in Malaysia and Indonesia.
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